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G.R. No.

L-32941 July 31, 1973

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioner,


vs.
HON. PIO R. MARCOS, in his capacity as Judge, Court of First Instance of Baguio, Branch I,
ALSON CARANTES, BILL CARANTES and EDUARDO CARANTES, respondents.

Office of the Solicitor General Felix Q. Antonio, Assistant Solicitor General Dominador L. Quiroz and
Solicitor Rosalio A. de Leon for petitioner.

Jesus M. Ponce for private respondents.

FERNANDO, J.:

A perusal, even the most cursory, of this petition for review on certiorari, would make evident its
being impressed with merit. Respondent Judge, under color of a statutory provision and at the
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instance of private respondents, did re-open Civil Registration Case No. 1 of the Court of First
Instance of Baguio establishing the Baguio Townsite Reservation, promulgated as far back as
November 13, 1922, thus enabling private respondents to apply for the registration of an area of
74,017 square meters inside the Camp John Hay Leave and Recreation Center. In the decision now
sought to be set aside in this suit dated November 9, 1968, its registration therefor was ordered in
favor of the aforesaid private respondents. Petitioner Republic of the Philippines thus has a
legitimate grievance. Republic v. Marcos, a 1969 a decision, speaks authoritatively. It does provide a
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firm, not to say rocklike foundation. Respondent Judge was without power to re-open the aforesaid
Civil Reservation Case No. 1 which was not a cadastral proceeding. What is more, it is undeniable
that the land in question, being a part of a duly established military camp or reservation, cannot be
thus ordered registered in favor of private respondents. We have to grant the petition.

It would appear from the facts that on November 12, 1966, respondents, the Carantes heirs, filed
under Civil Reservation Case No. 1 of the Court of First Instance of Baguio City a petition for the re-
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opening of said proceeding to have them declared owners, and for the registration in their favor of
four lots with a total area of 74,017 square meters therein described. Then on December 14, 1966,
respondent Judge issued an order requiring the publication and posting of notices thereof. The
Director of Lands duly opposed, as a report of an investigator of his office was that the area sought
to be registered is inside Camp John Hay in Baguio City. This notwithstanding, on November 9,
1968, the respondent Judge rendered his decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:
"[Wherefore], this Court hereby orders the registration of this parcel of land, situated in Res. Sec. "J",
Baguio City, identified as Lots 1, 2, 3, and 4 as shown on survey plan PSU 223402, and described in
its Technical Descriptions and Surveyor's Certificate, with a combined total area of 74,017 square
meters, more or less, in the names of the petitioners, pro-indiviso, namely, [Alson Carantes], married
to Monica Pedro, [Eduardo Carantes], married to Jesusa Rosal, and [Bill Carantes], married to
Budaet Onias, all of legal ages, Filipino citizens, with residence and postal addresses at Loakan,
Baguio City, Philippines." The efforts exerted by the Director of Lands and the City of Baguio to
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appeal said decision, seasonably made, did not prosper, respondent Judge being of the belief that
"the proper party to appeal should be Camp John Hay." Unfortunately, with the Solicitor-General not
having been informed of what did transpire, such denial went unchallenged. It was not until August
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22, 1969 that the Solicitor-General entered his appearance in the case and filed a motion to annul
the decision based on the ground of lack of jurisdiction of the court over the subject matter of the
proceedings as the land in question is part of a duly established military reservation. Such motion
was denied by respondent Judge on December 8, 1969. It must be noted that the location of the lot
inside Camp John Hay is not a subject of dispute. Apparently, the respondent Judge in refusing to
set aside his decision was impressed by the claim that the private respondents had been in
possession "since the Spanish regime," and thus came within the protection of the words annotated
on all survey plans of Camp John Hay, to wit: "subject to prior and existing private rights." 6

What is immediately apparent is that even if the above decision were not flawed by a grave infirmity,
it could not survive after the decision of this Court in Republic v. Marcos, as noted in the brief for
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private respondents, an action against the very same judge whose actuation over a matter not
dissimilar was challenged and challenged successfully. For the absence of jurisdiction under such
statutory provision from which he would derive his competence as well as the location of the
disputed area inside a military reservation deprived the decision now sought to be nullified of the
slightest claim to validity. Nor could private respondents derive comfort from the doctrine of estoppel
which as they should be the first to realize cannot operate against the state. Accordingly, as noted at
the outset, we grant the petition.

1. The question of jurisdiction was squarely raised and passed upon in the aforesaid Republic v.
Marcos. Thus: "Republic Act No. 931 speaks in a manner far from ambiguous. It is quite explicit and
categorical. Only persons "claiming to parcels of land that have been the object of cadastral
proceedings' are granted the right to petition for a re-opening thereof if the other conditions named
therein are successfully met. It cannot admit of doubt, therefore, that if the parcels of land were not
the object of cadastral proceedings, then this statute finds no application. Considering that as far
back as October 10, 1910, the then President of the United States, William H. Taft, issued an
executive order reserving for naval purposes the lots now disputed, they could not have been the
object of the cadastral proceedings involving the Baguio townsite reservation, decided only on
November 13, 1922." It was then stated in the opinion: "The Cadastral Act was enacted on February
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11, 1913, taking effect on its passage. As is made clear in the first section thereof, when public
interest requires that titles to any land be settled and adjudicated, in the opinion of the then
executive, the Governor General, he could order the Director of Lands, to make a survey and plan of
such lands. Clearly, it does not include the survey of lands declared as reservations." 9

Its historical background was next passed upon: "An earlier act, enacted as far back as 1903,
specifically governs the subject matter of reservations. As provided therein: "All lands or buildings, or
any interests therein, within the Philippine Islands lying within the boundaries of the areas now or
hereafter set apart and declared to be military reservations shall be forthwith brought under the
operations of the Land Registration Act, and such of said lands, buildings, and interests therein as
shall not be determined to be public lands shall become registered land in accordance with the
provisions of said Land Registration Act, under the circumstances hereinafter stated." The validity of
this statute was sustained as against the allegation that there was a violation of the due process
clause, in a 1910 decision, Jose v. Commander of the Philippine Squadron." Finally, an earlier case
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of decisive significance was referred to: "What is even more conclusive as to the absence of any
right on the part of the private respondents to seek a re-opening under Republic Act No. 931 is our
ruling in Government v. Court of First Instance of Pampanga, a 1926 decision. We there explicitly
held: "The defendant's contention that the respondent court, in a cadastral case, has jurisdiction to
order the registration portions of a legally established military reservation cannot be sustained. The
establishment of military reservations is governed by Act No. 627 of the Philippine Commission and
Section 1 of that Act provides that "All lands or buildings, or any interest therein, within the Philippine
Islands lying within the boundaries of the areas now or hereafter set apart and declared to be military
reservations shall be forthwith brought under the operations of the Land Registration
Act. ... ." ' "
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This Court could conclude therefore that as contended by petitioner Republic, respondent Judge in
that case was devoid "of jurisdiction to pass upon the claim of private respondents invoking the
benefits of Republic Act No. 931." 12
So it is in the present case. The absence of jurisdiction is equally
clear.

2. That Republic v. Marcos is likewise an insuperable bar to the re-opening sought by private
respondents is made clear by the latter portion of the opinion. Thus: "This lack of jurisdiction on the
part of respondent Judge is made more patent by another specific restriction of the right of a person
to seek re-opening under this statute. For the power of the Court to order such re-opening is limited
'to such of said parcels of land as have not been alienated, reserved, leased, granted, or otherwise
provisionally or permanently disposed of by the Government. ... .' Included in the petition is an
executive order of then President Herbert Hoover of June 19, 1929 declaring to be a naval
reservation of the Government of the United States 'that tract of land known as lot no. 141, residence
Section D, Baguio naval reservation, heretofore reserved for naval
purposes ... .' If there were still any lingering doubt, that ought to be removed by this reaffirmation of
a presidential determination, then binding and conclusive as we were under American sovereignty,
that the lot in question should be a naval reservation." 13

3. The state of the law could thus be summarized: "The private respondents are thus bereft of any
right which they could assert under Republic Act No. 931. Such an enactment is the basis of
whatever standing that would justify their reliance on the specific power granted courts of first
instance to re-open cadastral proceedings. Such jurisdiction is thus limited and specific. Unless a
party can make it manifest by express language or a clear implication from the wording of the statute
too strong to be resisted, he may not set in motion the judicial machinery under such specific grant
of authority. This, private respondents have failed to do as the statute in terms that are crystal clear
and free from ambiguity denies them such a right. Petitioners have made out their case for certiorari
and prohibition."14

Private respondents, however, would not give up without an attempt to escape from the operation of
a decision that is controlling. Not that it did them any good. Their counsel, with as show of diligence,
would cite authorities on estoppel. He ought to have known better. He should have realized that
resort to them would be without avail. For, as Justice J.B.L. Reyes, speaking for this Court, in
Luciano v. Estrella, categorically declared, "it is a well known and settled rule in our jurisdiction that
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the Republic, or its government, is usually not estopped by mistake or error on the part of its officials
or agents." In an earlier case, Republic v. Philippine Rabbit Lines, Inc., there was an enunciation
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of such a principle in this wise: "Thus did the lower court, as pointed out by the then Solicitor
General, conclude that the government was bound by the mistaken interpretation arrived at by the
national treasurer and the auditor general. It would consider estoppel as applicable. That is not the
law. Estoppel does not lie. Such a principle dates back to Aguinaldo de Romero v. Director of Lands,
a 1919 decision." 18

Nor is this all. An indication that one's appreciation of controlling doctrine leaves something to be
desired is bad enough. What is worse is the impression yielded of a failure to discern the thought
that lies behind the 1969 decision of Republic v. Marcos. It is this: the state as a persona in law is
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the juridical entity, which is the source of any asserted right to ownership in land under the basic
doctrine embodied in the 1935 Constitution as well as the present charter. It is charged moreover
with the conservation of such patrimony. There is need therefore of the most rigorous scrutiny
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before private claims to portions thereof are judicially accorded recognition, especially so where the
matter is sought to be raked up anew after almost fifty years. Such primordial consideration, not the
apparent carelessness, much less the acquiescence of public officials, is the controlling norm. Nor is
there anything unjust in such an approach as the alleged deprivation of a private right without
justification by the government is not remediless, where there is persuasive proof that such is the
case. The point of this decision as well as the earlier Republic v. Marcos is that the procedure
followed by private respondents is not the road to such an objective even on the assumption, purely
hypothetical, that there is basis in law for what is hoped for and aimed.

WHEREFORE, the writ of certiorari is granted annulling and setting aside the decision of respondent
Judge, dated November 9, 1968, which is declared to be without any force or effect as having been
issued without jurisdiction. Costs against private respondents.

Makalintal, Actg. C.J., Castro, Teehankee, Barredo and Esguerra, JJ., concur.

Makasiar and Antonio, JJ., took no part.

Zaldivar, J., is on leave.

Footnotes

1 Republic Act 931 as amended by Republic Act 2061 in its Section 1 reads
as follows: "All persons claiming title to parcels of land that have been the
object of cadastral proceedings, who at the time of the survey were in actual
possession of the same, but for some justifiable reason had been unable to
file their claim in the proper court during the time limit established by law, in
case such parcels of land, on account of their failure to file such claims, have
been, or are about to be declared land of the public domain, by virtue of
judicial proceedings instituted within the forty years next preceding the
approval of this Act, are hereby granted the right within ..., to petition for a re-
opening of the judicial proceedings under the provisions of Act Numbered
Twenty-two Hundred and Fifty-Nine, as amended, only with respect to such
of said parcels of land as have not been alienated, reserved, leased, granted
of otherwise provisionally or permanently disposed of by the Government. ..."
(1958)

2 L-29675, September 30, 1969, 29 SCRA 517.

3 General Land Registration Office Record No. 211.

4 Petition, pars. 1-5.

5 Ibid, par. 6.

6 Ibid, pars. 7-9.

7 L-29675, September 30, 1969, 29 SCRA 517.

8 Ibid, 526.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid, 526-527.
11 Ibid, 527-528.

12 Ibid, 528.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid, 528-529.

15 L-31622, August 31, 1970, 34 SCRA 769.

16 Ibid, 776.

17 L-26862, March 30, 1970, 32 SCRA 211.

18 Ibid, 218. Cf. Visayan Cebu Terminal Company, Inc. v. Commissioner of


Internal Revenue, L-19530 & L-19444, February 25, 1965, 13 SCRA 357;
Pacific Oxygen & Acetylene Company, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal
Revenue, L-17708, April 30, 1965, 13 SCRA 622; British Trader's Insurance
Company, Ltd. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, L-20501, April 30, 1965,
13 SCRA 719; Luzon Stevedoring Corp. v. Court of Tax Appeals, L-21005,
October 22, 1966, 18 SCRA 436.

19 L-29675, September 30, 1969, 29 SCRA 517.

20 According to the Preamble of the 1935 Constitution: "The Filipino people, imploring the aid of the
Divine Providence, in order to establish a government that shall embody their ideals, conserve and
develop the patrimony of the nation, promote the general welfare, and secure to themselves and
their posterity the blessings of independence under a regime of justice, liberty, and democracy, do
ordain and promulgate this Constitution." It is substantially reproduced in the revised Constitution.